DES MOINES — A bill calling for reorganization of Iowa’s 99 counties didn’t get much support at the Capitol Wednesday, but lawmakers greenlighted it for more discussion and, possibly, an interim study committee.
“We need to have a deep and thoughtful conversation,” Rep. Gary Carlson, R-Muscatine, said about House Joint Resolution 7 that would begin county reorganization in 2021.
However, Rep. Mary Gaskill, D-Ottumwa, raised several concerns, many that were shared by lobbyists who attended a subcommittee meeting.
The resolution calls for a constitutional amendment, which would have to be approved by voters, that would allow the Legislature to redraw county lines. If that means fewer counties, the Iowa State Association of Counties isn’t interested, Lucas Beenken said.
Outside of the “Des Moines bubble,” he said, “people really appreciate local government ... being able to go across town, into town or the next town over to renew their driver’s license or gun permit, to talk to the county engineer about roads and bridges.”
“Any consolidation that would take away local representation is problematic,” he said.
Gaskill, a former county auditor, thought the bill went too far in reducing the scope of county government.
“How much home rule is left?” she said, pointing to several places in the bill that would disallow some of the things counties now do. The bill would leave only “three or four things county government could do.”
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The bill is far from perfect, Carlson said, but he wants the full Local Government Committee to look at how Iowa’s relatively small population has changed and how technology has changed the way services can be delivered. Rather than look for ways to cooperate, some county officials seem to be running away from the issue, he said.
“We get asked all the time how we can justify 99 counties and how much government do we need,” Carlson said.
The focus should be on delivering service, said Gaskill.
Local Government Committee Chairman Jake Highfill, R-Johnston, said he will take up the bill in full committee and ask for an interim study committee.
Constitutional amendments have to be approved by two general assemblies before being submitted for voter approval.
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